Today is International Women's Day, and women across the United States are participating in a mass strike called, “A Day Without a Woman.” The organizers behind the historic Women’s March on Washington that came in that wake of President Trump’s inauguration are behind the mass protest. They called on women to not attend work, not to shop, and if unable to do either of those, to wear red in solidarity.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City schools are closed in response to the political protest.
Host Frank Stasio speaks with NaShonda Cooke, a Durham County public school teacher who is observing the strike, and Jocelyn Olcott, professor of history and gender, sexuality, and feminist studies at Duke University.
NaShonda Cooke on why she participated in “A Day Without a Woman”:
It’s part of my DNA, honestly. My family – my mother and my grandmother – participated in protests, strikes and marches in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, when things were not being adequately and honestly displayed for the nation to see. A lot of times in education, you hear things like, "We want to reduce class size,” but then I tell them the whole story. They want to reduce class sizes on the backs of other teachers. If they do reduce class size and not provide funding for it, we have to let go some of our coworkers, and we have done more than enough of that.
NaShonda Cooke on using International Women’s Day as a teachable moment:
We are raising intelligent, creative and curious beings, but also we want to raise advocates. We want to raise the children to understand that if you feel wronged, there’s a respectful way to respond to it, and then to also advocate for yourself, support yourself and stand by your brother or your sister… In fifth grade, we talk about the American Revolution – all the protests and the boycotts – we talk about the Civil War and how there were two different sides that saw the future going a certain way, and they didn’t agree on it, so today we were able to give them a current event and have a personal experience with the same thing going on.
Jocelyn Olcott on “A Day Without a Woman” in a historical context:
Today is "International Women’s Day," which used to be called "International Working Women’s Day." The emphasis today is to highlight all the labor that women do: paid labor, unpaid labor, caring labors... everything that women do to make this world work. The idea of withdrawing that labor is to highlight what happens… if you do that for a day. Hopefully that draws attention to how undervalued that labor is.
Jocelyn Olcott on women’s striking precedents:
Last October there was a series of work stoppages in Argentina and Mexico – throughout Latin America, actually – with some sympathy movements in places like Spain about violence against women… These moments… always reach out to other things. They may start from a precipitating moment, much like today’s was the election of Donald Trump and all that seemed to stand for – but it has reached across to a lot of different movements.
Jocelyn Olcott on the effectiveness of non-participation movements:
It depends. The upside, if you will, of having it be a one-day movement is that it’s contained and puts less of a burden on families and coworkers. On the other side, if you really want to have leverage, it needs to be open-ended. The Bureau of Labor Statistics will say work stoppage is a generic term that includes a strike, but I would say what distinguishes a real strike is you’re demanding concessions. You’re saying, “We’re not going back to work until this demand is met.” The leaders of this movement have decided not to do that. To be honest, I think that’s a really smart move, and the reason I think it’s a smart move is the organizing simply isn’t there yet. What it takes to pull off a strike – and anyone who has studied strikes knows this – is a lot of really hard, on-the-ground, face-to-face organizing. It’s not going to happen over Twitter. It’s not going to happen over Facebook. It’s going to be happening because you sit down with the people you work with, and you really build relationships of trust and confidence that can endure through what will be some very, very difficult times.
NaShonda Cooke on “A Day Without a Woman” as a one-day movement rather than a sustained strike:
I think that was a very smart strategy because a lot of women are not able to take the day off, but they can choose their wardrobe for the day. They can hold conversations for the day. They can decide, “I’m not going to shop here today. I’m going to go here instead.” I think the sting is still there. I think folks will see what the possibility of this could be. If we don’t do something about this now, imagine what would happen if this was long-term. It’s great that we are giving people various ways to participate.
NaShonda Cooke on what she hopes her students learn from "A Day Without a Woman":
I hope they know that when Ms. Cooke talks to them in class about change, there is a proper way of doing it. There are several different ways. You have your choice. You can speak out; you can write a letter; you can protest. But I also want them to learn how to be advocates, self-advocates. A very effective strategy that we use in the classroom is modeling. I can get up, and I can write the notes on the board or show them a movie, but I can also say, "Last week, when Ms. Cooke stood up and she spoke about making sure your family stays safe and you feel good about the education you’re getting, that’s what I want you to get out of this."